Memorandum to the Gauteng Department of Health from families of Life Esidimeni users

9 June 2016

We are marching against the manner in which the Gauteng Department of Health has treated our loved ones. The Department over the last several months has been moving our loved ones from Life Esidimeni, a facility for people with severe mental health needs, to various NGOs across the province – often without alerting us and leaving it to us to track them down. Our loved ones require high levels of care and have often been in Life Esidimeni for many years.

We have made extensive efforts to engage the Department. The Department has treated us with indifference and indignity. It has repeatedly lied to us. It has operated in secrecy. It has failed to put in place a plan to protect the rights and safety of our loved ones. Many of our loved ones are relapsing and dying as a result. We demand change.

  • The Department promised that it would place our loved ones in facilities closer to their families. It then moved them without consulting us or giving us a choice as to where they would go. When some of us questioned the placements, the Department threatened us, saying we must either accept the placement or take our loved ones home and care for them ourselves. It is not safe, medically sound or even possible for us to take our loved ones home. They require high levels of care that we are not qualified to offer.
  • Far from consulting us on placements, the Department often did not even tell us where our loved ones would be taken. Many of us spent weeks not knowing where the Department took our loved ones, despite our best efforts to find out. A number of us still do not know where our loved ones have been taken to. The Department simply is not available to engage us, even whilst they proclaim to the media that they are doing so.
  • The Department announced to the media that it would extend the contract with Life Esidimeni to the end of June. It has now reneged on that announcement and tried to close the facility by end of May at the Life Esidimeni Waverley facility and 15 June at the Randfontein facility. It did so without consulting or even telling us. The Department confirmed this to be true when we contacted them.
  • The Department promised the new facilities would be the same or better as Life Esidimeni. It has not kept this promise:
    • Many of the facilities do not have medication on site and a number of our loved ones have not been able to access their critical mental health medication
    • The NGOs, unlike Life Esidimeni, do not provide clothing to patients. Those of us with means to do so have provided our loved ones with clothing, but it has in a number of instances been stolen. Our loved ones are cold and in a strange new place.
    • A number of the facilities do not provide activities and stimulation to the patients.
  • A number of the NGOs have demanded families to pay them. The Department assured us that it would cover all costs, as it did at Life Esidimeni.
  • The Department promised that a committee of family member representatives would be invited to inspect each NGO before patients could be placed there. It has reneged on that promise and bussed patients to NGOs without telling their family members and without alerting the family committee.
  • The Department on many occasions promised it would provide the family committee a list of approved NGOs along with the criteria and process it used to approve them. It continues to promise it will do so. It continues to fail to do so. We do not know where the Department is sending our loved ones, much less the criteria and process it is using to ensure the NGOs are appropriate and safe.
  • The Department forced some families to take their loved ones home. It promised these families pre- and post-discharge support in the form of home visits and education. The Department has not provided any of this support.
  • Many of our loved ones have relapsed since being moved and a number have died.

We are everyday residents of this country – we do not have experience in running slick advocacy campaigns. We are a David taking on a Goliath. However, we will do what is right and we will continue to speak out until we are satisfied that our family members are treated with the dignity and seriousness they are entitled to.

We therefore demand:

  1. A profile of each NGO where our family members have been or will be placed including e.g. services provided and staff available.
  2. The accreditation documents for each of the NGOs indicating their readiness to provide appropriate care and treatment for our loved ones.
  3. Details of the funding of NGOs through government subsidies and other sources.
  4. The Department’s plans for supporting, monitoring and evaluating the NGOs.
  5. A proper, individual consultation between the Department and the relevant family in regards to each placement made and prior to any further placements.
  6. Each family to be provided with the assessment conducted of their loved one in terms of which they have been placed in another facility.
  7. A toll-free number that family members can call to establish where patients have been placed and/or lodge complaints and make other inquires. Note that the number previously provided has not been working.

We demand a response to this memo by 15 June 2016.

Signed on 9 June 2016:


Gauteng Department of Health


Family representative